Thursday, February 07, 2008

I spent the better part of my evening watching the PBS special, "African-American Lives 2" hosted by Henry Louis Gates. While I was watching, I was reminded of a time when I was about 13 or 14, and Mr. Gates was over to my house more than once. My mother was and still is friends with him and a lot of other English professors who at one time were in the DC area. Usually when my mother and father would have colleagues or any kind of company, my brother and I would be forced to introduce ourselves and speak briefly, and then we would be kindly escorted out of the room, so they could conduct adult business. I didn't really pay that much attention to Mr. Gates, except I noticed that he walked with a cane, and he used big words that I had never heard in my 14 years of life. Fast forward to my college days, and during my senior thesis, one of the books I had to read was "The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism" and of course the author was Henry Louis Gates. At that time I was 20, and that was the hardest book I had ever read in my life(probably still is). The words he was using forced me to keep a thesaurus in arm's reach, the sentences were a bit convoluted, there were so many footnotes, and I was expected to not only understand this book and the lectures that went with it, but I had to incorporate this book into my senior thesis. I even tried to call my mother, so that she could call Mr. Gates, so that he could give me some guidance, some Cliff notes, or something, but I wasn't so lucky. I say all that to say it is weird to see Mr. Gates on television or even at Harvard, doing big things, when once upon a time he was right in my home.

I also suggest that you watch the African-American Lives program on PBS. After awhile some of the stories do get a little monotonous, but there are still some very compelling stories. The thing that is so compelling/maddening to me is how many Southern, black families had to sell and/or abandon THEIR land. They sold land so they could hire lawyers to defend them against bogus charges; they sold land to other black families so that they would stay in the South to keep it strong, and not go North where so much was unknown; in other cases, black families just walked away from land, because their wealth angered the Southern whites, and they didn't want to get killed. All this land that they had legally acquired post-slavery, and circumstances forced them to give it away. And today, some of those same families are living in poverty, and some are even wealthy, but just think how much better off they would be if they had land they once owned throughout the South. Perhaps its nothing to you, but it definitely hit me hard last night.

On Green Dolphin Street - Miles Davis

5 comments:

Jo said...

WoW! I had no idea this was showing . . .I need to get the video . . .the first one was compelling, so I am sure this one is, too.

Michell said...

i watched it last night. it makes me want to find out more about my family history.

Miss Black River said...

I saw some of it. Very well done.

lex said...

Dude. That program is so inspiring. The parts about loss of land, and people being treated like chattel make me want to...i don't know how to put it - but it makes me want to avenge my ancestors. In what fashion, i can't say. But it surely makes me want to be the best person i can be.

As far as you having Mr Gates over at your house, that is awesome. lol @ you noticing he used big words. I guess this means you're famous by association. :)

TM said...

I didn't watch the series and if it comes back on I'll make sure to check it out. Just a few days ago I read that article about our young black folks and how much they spend their hard earned money on partying yet back in the day we were spending it on land. What a slap in the face.